than she left her room and ran to the dairyman's door; then up the
ladder to Angel's, calling him in a loud whisper; then woke her
fellow-milkmaids. By the time that Tess was dressed Clare was
downstairs and out in the humid air. The remaining maids and the
dairyman usually gave themselves another turn on the pillow, and did
not appear till a quarter of an hour later.
The gray half-tones of daybreak are not the gray half-tones of the
day's close, though the degree of their shade may be the same. In
the twilight of the morning, light seems active, darkness passive;
in the twilight of evening it is the darkness which is active and
crescent, and the light which is the drowsy reverse.
Being so often - possibly not always by chance - the first two persons
to get up at the dairy-house, they seemed to themselves the first
persons up of all the world. In these early days of her residence
here Tess did not skim, but went out of doors at once after rising,
where he was generally awaiting her. The spectral, half-compounded,
aqueous light which pervaded the open mead impressed them with
a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve. At this
dim inceptive stage of the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a
dignified largeness both of disposition and physique, an almost
regnant power, possibly because he knew that at that preternatural
time hardly any woman so well endowed in person as she was likely to
be walking in the open air within the boundaries of his horizon; very
few in all England. Fair women are usually asleep at mid-summer
dawns. She was close at hand, and the rest were nowhere.
The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along
together to the spot where the cows lay often made him think of the
Resurrection hour. He little thought that the Magdalen might be
at his side. Whilst all the landscape was in neutral shade his
companion's face, which was the focus of his eyes, rising above the
mist stratum, seemed to have a sort of phosphorescence upon it. She
looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large. In reality
her face, without appearing to do so, had caught the cold gleam of
day from the north-east; his own face, though he did not think of
it, wore the same aspect to her.
It was then, as has been said, that she impressed him most deeply.
She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman - a
whole sex condensed into one typical form. He called her Artemis,
Demeter, and other fanciful names half teasingly, which she did not
like because she did not understand them.
"Call me Tess," she would say askance; and he did.
Then it would grow lighter, and her features would become simply
feminine; they had changed from those of a divinity who could confer
bliss to those of a being who craved it.
At these non-human hours they could get quite close to the waterfowl.
Herons came, with a great bold noise as of opening doors and
shutters, out of the boughs of a plantation which they frequented at
the side of the mead; or, if already on the spot, hardily maintained
their standing in the water as the pair walked by, watching them by
moving their heads round in a slow, horizontal, passionless wheel,
like the turn of puppets by clockwork.
They could then see the faint summer fogs in layers, woolly, level,
and apparently no thicker than counterpanes, spread about the meadows
in detached remnants of small extent. On the gray moisture of the
grass were marks where the cows had lain through the night - dark-green
islands of dry herbage the size of their carcasses, in the general
sea of dew. From each island proceeded a serpentine trail, by which
the cow had rambled away to feed after getting up, at the end of
which trail they found her; the snoring puff from her nostrils, when
she recognized them, making an intenser little fog of her own amid
the prevailing one. Then they drove the animals back to the barton,
or sat down to milk them on the spot, as the case might require.
Or perhaps the summer fog was more general, and the meadows lay like
a white sea, out of which the scattered trees rose like dangerous
rocks. Birds would soar through it into the upper radiance, and
hang on the wing sunning themselves, or alight on the wet rails
subdividing the mead, which now shone like glass rods. Minute
diamonds of moisture from the mist hung, too, upon Tess's eyelashes,
and drops upon her hair, like seed pearls. When the day grew quite
strong and commonplace these dried off her; moreover, Tess then
lost her strange and ethereal beauty; her teeth, lips, and eyes
scintillated in the sunbeams and she was again the dazzlingly fair
dairymaid only, who had to hold her own against the other women of
About this time they would hear Dairyman Crick's voice, lecturing the
non-resident milkers for arriving late, and speaking sharply to old
Deborah Fyander for not washing her hands.
"For Heaven's sake, pop thy hands under the pump, Deb! Upon my soul,
if the London folk only knowed of thee and thy slovenly ways, they'd
swaller their milk and butter more mincing than they do a'ready; and
that's saying a good deal."
The milking progressed, till towards the end Tess and Clare, in
common with the rest, could hear the heavy breakfast table dragged
out from the wall in the kitchen by Mrs Crick, this being the
invariable preliminary to each meal; the same horrible scrape
accompanying its return journey when the table had been cleared.
There was a great stir in the milk-house just after breakfast. The
churn revolved as usual, but the butter would not come. Whenever
this happened the dairy was paralyzed. Squish, squash echoed the
milk in the great cylinder, but never arose the sound they waited
Dairyman Crick and his wife, the milkmaids Tess, Marian, Retty
Priddle, Izz Huett, and the married ones from the cottages; also
Mr Clare, Jonathan Kail, old Deborah, and the rest, stood gazing
hopelessly at the churn; and the boy who kept the horse going outside
put on moon-like eyes to show his sense of the situation. Even the
melancholy horse himself seemed to look in at the window in inquiring
despair at each walk round.
"'Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle's son in Egdon - years!"
said the dairyman bitterly. "And he was nothing to what his father
had been. I have said fifty times, if I have said once, that I DON'T
believe in en; though 'a do cast folks' waters very true. But I
shall have to go to 'n if he's alive. O yes, I shall have to go to
'n, if this sort of thing continnys!"
Even Mr Clare began to feel tragical at the dairyman's desperation.
"Conjuror Fall, t'other side of Casterbridge, that they used to call
'Wide-O', was a very good man when I was a boy," said Jonathan Kail.
"But he's rotten as touchwood by now."
"My grandfather used to go to Conjuror Mynterne, out at Owlscombe,
and a clever man a' were, so I've heard grandf'er say," continued Mr
Crick. "But there's no such genuine folk about nowadays!"
Mrs Crick's mind kept nearer to the matter in hand.
"Perhaps somebody in the house is in love," she said tentatively.
"I've heard tell in my younger days that that will cause it. Why,
Crick - that maid we had years ago, do ye mind, and how the butter
didn't come then - "
"Ah yes, yes! - but that isn't the rights o't. It had nothing to do
with the love-making. I can mind all about it - 'twas the damage to
He turned to Clare.
"Jack Dollop, a 'hore's-bird of a fellow we had here as milker at one
time, sir, courted a young woman over at Mellstock, and deceived her
as he had deceived many afore. But he had another sort o' woman to
reckon wi' this time, and it was not the girl herself. One Holy
Thursday of all days in the almanack, we was here as we mid be now,
only there was no churning in hand, when we zid the girl's mother
coming up to the door, wi' a great brass-mounted umbrella in her
hand that would ha' felled an ox, and saying 'Do Jack Dollop work
here? - because I want him! I have a big bone to pick with he, I
can assure 'n!' And some way behind her mother walked Jack's young
woman, crying bitterly into her handkercher. 'O Lard, here's a
time!' said Jack, looking out o' winder at 'em. 'She'll murder me!
Where shall I get - where shall I - ? Don't tell her where I be!'
And with that he scrambled into the churn through the trap-door, and
shut himself inside, just as the young woman's mother busted into
the milk-house. 'The villain - where is he?' says she. 'I'll claw
his face for'n, let me only catch him!' Well, she hunted about
everywhere, ballyragging Jack by side and by seam, Jack lying
a'most stifled inside the churn, and the poor maid - or young woman
rather - standing at the door crying her eyes out. I shall never
forget it, never! 'Twould have melted a marble stone! But she
couldn't find him nowhere at all."
The dairyman paused, and one or two words of comment came from the
Dairyman Crick's stories often seemed to be ended when they were not
really so, and strangers were betrayed into premature interjections
of finality; though old friends knew better. The narrator went on -
"Well, how the old woman should have had the wit to guess it I could
never tell, but she found out that he was inside that there churn.
Without saying a word she took hold of the winch (it was turned by
handpower then), and round she swung him, and Jack began to flop
about inside. 'O Lard! stop the churn! let me out!' says he, popping
out his head. 'I shall be churned into a pummy!' (He was a cowardly
chap in his heart, as such men mostly be). 'Not till ye make amends
for ravaging her virgin innocence!' says the old woman. 'Stop the
churn you old witch!' screams he. 'You call me old witch, do ye, you
deceiver!' says she, 'when ye ought to ha' been calling me mother-law
these last five months!' And on went the churn, and Jack's bones
rattled round again. Well, none of us ventured to interfere; and at
last 'a promised to make it right wi' her. 'Yes - I'll be as good as
my word!' he said. And so it ended that day."
While the listeners were smiling their comments there was a
quick movement behind their backs, and they looked round. Tess,
pale-faced, had gone to the door.
"How warm 'tis to-day!" she said, almost inaudibly.
It was warm, and none of them connected her withdrawal with the
reminiscences of the dairyman. He went forward and opened the door
for her, saying with tender raillery -
"Why, maidy" (he frequently, with unconscious irony, gave her this
pet name), "the prettiest milker I've got in my dairy; you mustn't
get so fagged as this at the first breath of summer weather, or we
shall be finely put to for want of 'ee by dog-days, shan't we, Mr
"I was faint - and - I think I am better out o' doors," she said
mechanically; and disappeared outside.
Fortunately for her the milk in the revolving churn at that moment
changed its squashing for a decided flick-flack.
"'Tis coming!" cried Mrs Crick, and the attention of all was called
off from Tess.
That fair sufferer soon recovered herself externally; but she
remained much depressed all the afternoon. When the evening milking
was done she did not care to be with the rest of them, and went out
of doors, wandering along she knew not whither. She was wretched - O
so wretched - at the perception that to her companions the dairyman's
story had been rather a humorous narration than otherwise; none of
them but herself seemed to see the sorrow of it; to a certainty, not
one knew how cruelly it touched the tender place in her experience.
The evening sun was now ugly to her, like a great inflamed wound in
the sky. Only a solitary cracked-voice reed-sparrow greeted her from
the bushes by the river, in a sad, machine-made tone, resembling that
of a past friend whose friendship she had outworn.
In these long June days the milkmaids, and, indeed, most of the
household, went to bed at sunset or sooner, the morning work before
milking being so early and heavy at a time of full pails. Tess
usually accompanied her fellows upstairs. To-night, however, she was
the first to go to their common chamber; and she had dozed when the
other girls came in. She saw them undressing in the orange light
of the vanished sun, which flushed their forms with its colour; she
dozed again, but she was reawakened by their voices, and quietly
turned her eyes towards them.
Neither of her three chamber-companions had got into bed. They were
standing in a group, in their nightgowns, barefooted, at the window,
the last red rays of the west still warming their faces and necks and
the walls around them. All were watching somebody in the garden with
deep interest, their three faces close together: a jovial and round
one, a pale one with dark hair, and a fair one whose tresses were
"Don't push! You can see as well as I," said Retty, the
auburn-haired and youngest girl, without removing her eyes from the
"'Tis no use for you to be in love with him any more than me, Retty
Priddle," said jolly-faced Marian, the eldest, slily. "His thoughts
be of other cheeks than thine!"
Retty Priddle still looked, and the others looked again.
"There he is again!" cried Izz Huett, the pale girl with dark damp
hair and keenly cut lips.
"You needn't say anything, Izz," answered Retty. "For I zid you
kissing his shade."
"WHAT did you see her doing?" asked Marian.
"Why - he was standing over the whey-tub to let off the whey, and the
shade of his face came upon the wall behind, close to Izz, who was
standing there filling a vat. She put her mouth against the wall and
kissed the shade of his mouth; I zid her, though he didn't."
"O Izz Huett!" said Marian.
A rosy spot came into the middle of Izz Huett's cheek.
"Well, there was no harm in it," she declared, with attempted
coolness. "And if I be in love wi'en, so is Retty, too; and so be
you, Marian, come to that."
Marian's full face could not blush past its chronic pinkness.
"I!" she said. "What a tale! Ah, there he is again! Dear
eyes - dear face - dear Mr Clare!"
"There - you've owned it!"
"So have you - so have we all," said Marian, with the dry frankness of
complete indifference to opinion. "It is silly to pretend otherwise
amongst ourselves, though we need not own it to other folks. I would
just marry 'n to-morrow!"
"So would I - and more," murmured Izz Huett.
"And I too," whispered the more timid Retty.
The listener grew warm.
"We can't all marry him," said Izz.
"We shan't, either of us; which is worse still," said the eldest.
"There he is again!"
They all three blew him a silent kiss.
"Why?" asked Retty quickly.
"Because he likes Tess Durbeyfield best," said Marian, lowering her
voice. "I have watched him every day, and have found it out."
There was a reflective silence.
"But she don't care anything for 'n?" at length breathed Retty.
"Well - I sometimes think that too."
"But how silly all this is!" said Izz Huett impatiently. "Of course
he won't marry any one of us, or Tess either - a gentleman's son,
who's going to be a great landowner and farmer abroad! More likely
to ask us to come wi'en as farm-hands at so much a year!"
One sighed, and another sighed, and Marian's plump figure sighed
biggest of all. Somebody in bed hard by sighed too. Tears came into
the eyes of Retty Priddle, the pretty red-haired youngest - the last
bud of the Paridelles, so important in the county annals. They
watched silently a little longer, their three faces still close
together as before, and the triple hues of their hair mingling. But
the unconscious Mr Clare had gone indoors, and they saw him no more;
and, the shades beginning to deepen, they crept into their beds.
In a few minutes they heard him ascend the ladder to his own room.
Marian was soon snoring, but Izz did not drop into forgetfulness for
a long time. Retty Priddle cried herself to sleep.
The deeper-passioned Tess was very far from sleeping even then. This
conversation was another of the bitter pills she had been obliged to
swallow that day. Scarce the least feeling of jealousy arose in her
breast. For that matter she knew herself to have the preference.
Being more finely formed, better educated, and, though the youngest
except Retty, more woman than either, she perceived that only the
slightest ordinary care was necessary for holding her own in Angel
Clare's heart against these her candid friends. But the grave
question was, ought she to do this? There was, to be sure, hardly a
ghost of a chance for either of them, in a serious sense; but there
was, or had been, a chance of one or the other inspiring him with a
passing fancy for her, and enjoying the pleasure of his attentions
while he stayed here. Such unequal attachments had led to marriage;
and she had heard from Mrs Crick that Mr Clare had one day asked, in
a laughing way, what would be the use of his marrying a fine lady,
and all the while ten thousand acres of Colonial pasture to feed,
and cattle to rear, and corn to reap. A farm-woman would be the
only sensible kind of wife for him. But whether Mr Clare had spoken
seriously or not, why should she, who could never conscientiously
allow any man to marry her now, and who had religiously determined
that she never would be tempted to do so, draw off Mr Clare's
attention from other women, for the brief happiness of sunning
herself in his eyes while he remained at Talbothays?
They came downstairs yawning next morning; but skimming and milking
were proceeded with as usual, and they went indoors to breakfast.
Dairyman Crick was discovered stamping about the house. He had
received a letter, in which a customer had complained that the butter
had a twang.
"And begad, so 't have!" said the dairyman, who held in his left hand
a wooden slice on which a lump of butter was stuck. "Yes - taste for
Several of them gathered round him; and Mr Clare tasted, Tess tasted,
also the other indoor milkmaids, one or two of the milking-men, and
last of all Mrs Crick, who came out from the waiting breakfast-table.
There certainly was a twang.
The dairyman, who had thrown himself into abstraction to better
realize the taste, and so divine the particular species of noxious
weed to which it appertained, suddenly exclaimed -
"'Tis garlic! and I thought there wasn't a blade left in that mead!"
Then all the old hands remembered that a certain dry mead, into which
a few of the cows had been admitted of late, had, in years gone by,
spoilt the butter in the same way. The dairyman had not recognized
the taste at that time, and thought the butter bewitched.
"We must overhaul that mead," he resumed; "this mustn't continny!"
All having armed themselves with old pointed knives, they went out
together. As the inimical plant could only be present in very
microscopic dimensions to have escaped ordinary observation, to
find it seemed rather a hopeless attempt in the stretch of rich
grass before them. However, they formed themselves into line, all
assisting, owing to the importance of the search; the dairyman at
the upper end with Mr Clare, who had volunteered to help; then
Tess, Marian, Izz Huett, and Retty; then Bill Lewell, Jonathan, and
the married dairywomen - Beck Knibbs, with her wooly black hair and
rolling eyes; and flaxen Frances, consumptive from the winter damps
of the water-meads - who lived in their respective cottages.
With eyes fixed upon the ground they crept slowly across a strip of
the field, returning a little further down in such a manner that,
when they should have finished, not a single inch of the pasture but
would have fallen under the eye of some one of them. It was a most
tedious business, not more than half a dozen shoots of garlic being
discoverable in the whole field; yet such was the herb's pungency
that probably one bite of it by one cow had been sufficient to season
the whole dairy's produce for the day.
Differing one from another in natures and moods so greatly as they
did, they yet formed, bending, a curiously uniform row - automatic,
noiseless; and an alien observer passing down the neighbouring lane
might well have been excused for massing them as "Hodge". As they
crept along, stooping low to discern the plant, a soft yellow gleam
was reflected from the buttercups into their shaded faces, giving
them an elfish, moonlit aspect, though the sun was pouring upon their
backs in all the strength of noon.
Angel Clare, who communistically stuck to his rule of taking part
with the rest in everything, glanced up now and then. It was not,
of course, by accident that he walked next to Tess.
"Well, how are you?" he murmured.
"Very well, thank you, sir," she replied demurely.
As they had been discussing a score of personal matters only
half-an-hour before, the introductory style seemed a little
superfluous. But they got no further in speech just then. They
crept and crept, the hem of her petticoat just touching his gaiter,
and his elbow sometimes brushing hers. At last the dairyman, who
came next, could stand it no longer.
"Upon my soul and body, this here stooping do fairly make my back
open and shut!" he exclaimed, straightening himself slowly with an
excruciated look till quite upright. "And you, maidy Tess, you
wasn't well a day or two ago - this will make your head ache finely!
Don't do any more, if you feel fainty; leave the rest to finish it."
Dairyman Crick withdrew, and Tess dropped behind. Mr Clare also
stepped out of line, and began privateering about for the weed. When
she found him near her, her very tension at what she had heard the
night before made her the first to speak.
"Don't they look pretty?" she said.
"Izzy Huett and Retty."
Tess had moodily decided that either of these maidens would make a
good farmer's wife, and that she ought to recommend them, and obscure
her own wretched charms.
"Pretty? Well, yes - they are pretty girls - fresh looking. I have
often thought so."
"Though, poor dears, prettiness won't last long!"
"O no, unfortunately."
"They are excellent dairywomen."
"Yes: though not better than you."
"They skim better than I."
Clare remained observing them - not without their observing him.
"She is colouring up," continued Tess heroically.
"Oh! Why it that?"
"Because you are looking at her."
Self-sacrificing as her mood might be, Tess could not well go further
and cry, "Marry one of them, if you really do want a dairywoman and
not a lady; and don't think of marrying me!" She followed Dairyman
Crick, and had the mournful satisfaction of seeing that Clare
From this day she forced herself to take pains to avoid him - never
allowing herself, as formerly, to remain long in his company, even if
their juxtaposition were purely accidental. She gave the other three
Tess was woman enough to realize from their avowals to herself that
Angel Clare had the honour of all the dairymaids in his keeping, and
her perception of his care to avoid compromising the happiness of
either in the least degree bred a tender respect in Tess for what she
deemed, rightly or wrongly, the self-controlling sense of duty shown
by him, a quality which she had never expected to find in one of the
opposite sex, and in the absence of which more than one of the simple
hearts who were his house-mates might have gone weeping on her
The hot weather of July had crept upon them unawares, and the
atmosphere of the flat vale hung heavy as an opiate over the
dairy-folk, the cows, and the trees. Hot steaming rains fell
frequently, making the grass where the cows fed yet more rank, and
hindering the late hay-making in the other meads.
It was Sunday morning; the milking was done; the outdoor milkers
had gone home. Tess and the other three were dressing themselves
rapidly, the whole bevy having agreed to go together to Mellstock
Church, which lay some three or four miles distant from the
dairy-house. She had now been two months at Talbothays, and this
was her first excursion.
All the preceding afternoon and night heavy thunderstorms had hissed
down upon the meads, and washed some of the hay into the river; but
this morning the sun shone out all the more brilliantly for the
deluge, and the air was balmy and clear.
The crooked lane leading from their own parish to Mellstock ran along
the lowest levels in a portion of its length, and when the girls
reached the most depressed spot they found that the result of the